Preparing Assets for Environment Design
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Preparing Assets for Environment Design
5 July, 2017
Interview

Okan Beyit showed how he prepared the environment assets under the careful control of Andres Rodriguez.

Introduction

Hi everyone! My name is Okan Beyit and I am an environment artist currently working at Zero Latency in Melbourne Australia. My background is in architecture and the built environment but I recently made the transition to game art as this has always been my passion. Following that decision, I enrolled back into university and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (game design) from JMC Academy in Melbourne in mid 2016.

After graduating I was able to secure a contract position as a junior artist with Chronica Creative, a Melbourne-based company specializing in experimental mediums. Here I worked on a space themed interactive cinematic museum exhibition titled ‘Neighborhood Earth’, produced in partnership with the United States Space and Rocket Centre.

After completing the contract with Chronica, I found new employment at my current studio, Zero Latency. At ZL we produce and host a variety of free-roam virtual reality experiences, ranging from zombie apocalypse survival games to serious training simulations.

Though work keeps me busy most of the time, I really love to learn and develop further as an artist. Therefore I’m always looking for opportunities to fit in more study and training around my working hours. This led me to enroll in the CGMA course ‘Intro to Environment Art’ taught by Andres Rodriguez, which is where I produced this particular piece and picked up a lot of really useful tips and techniques used during its production.

Requirements for game assets

I usually begin by trying to determine the significance of an asset, understanding where it will fit into a scene and how it will aid in visually communicating the narrative for that particular environment. From this I can deduce a list of primary assets that will form the main story elements.

This is very useful as it gives me a clear direction for how to tackle a project and also a hierarchy of importance for the assets. I can then plan my time to invest more attention and detail into these assets. This means that anything else I add to the scene will be for the purpose of framing and enhancing the primary assets. I find this work-flow gives me a good balance between quality and time management and keeps the assets cohesive overall.

Asset production

I first started by gathering reference, looking at proportions that are typical of Gothic architecture. I also began examining real world ruins to understand how they were built and the patterns in which they decay and break. I then did some quick sketches to draw out my ideas

The actual assets for the scene started with a very primitive block-out in Maya. This was a great way to test composition and scale of assets in 3d space and make changes on the fly before committing to finished pieces.

Once I had committed to a layout I began modeling, sculpting and texturing in unison. A stone brick substance forms the basis of the architecture so that is where the process began. After creating the substance, I modeled the vestibule walls to make the most out of that material, utilising the UV cuts and a trim sheet to randomise the tiling of the bricks even further.

After this, individual mesh bricks, columns and the arch stones were modeled, then sculpted in Mudbox to add damage and wear. To texture these, I stripped the stone brick material of its detail to create a smoother stone variant that would be harmonious with the vestibule. This forms the base texture for these elements, combined with the high poly baked details.

 

Vegetation

The approach to building vegetation varies a bit from the creation of textures. Instead of creating large base shapes and adding iterative details, these were created by starting small and building up larger components by combining these pieces.

The leaves were sculpted in Mudbox before being taken into Maya to be positioned over a branch. They were then grouped into random bunches and baked into a texture sheet in Substance Designer. The grouping allows for the baking of ID maps which can be used to drive colour variations between leaves. After this a veiny material was set up for these using some of the wood grain presets in Designer and the high poly baked information such as the curvature was used to shift the colors at the edges of the leaves as you would find in nature in certain species. The grass was created the same way, baking high poly blades onto a texture sheet, however this didn’t require sculpting.

From these texture sheets several card variants were made and combined in different configurations to make large, medium and small groupings while shifting the albedo allowed me to create dead and dry variants of each foliage type. This method allows you to create numerous variations using only a handful of assets.

SpeedTree is one of my favorite packages but fine tuning the placement of cards that branch off other cards where the branches bifurcate can be tedious, whereas it is simple to create a grouping of cards that resemble natural growth in Maya relatively quickly.

I also really love to produce foliage assets so this has always been something that I prefer to do myself rather than using pre-made assets

Texturing

Finding reference images was really important here as well. I complied a lot of images of chiselled stone bricks to identify the kinds of shapes, surface details and colors you would expect to find. Using this reference I began to build the textures in Substance Designer.

Daniel Rose wrote a great article that examined the way textures can be broken down using examples from Rogelio Olguin. I found this to be really insightful and I’ve been approaching texture creation in the same way. I also followed a lot of Joshua Lynch‘s tutorials when I was first learning how to use substance designer so the techniques he recommends were used here too.

I started by creating the large primary shapes, then refine these by adding secondary details before finishing the textures with fine micro surface details.

Using the stone materials as examples, the tiles / bricks with their slopes and height variations were created first. I then layered cracks, chips, chisel marks and erosive wear to refine the base forms. Then I finished the materials by adding small pock marks, roughness variations and moss growth.

Using Substance Painter

Substance Painter was used to add wear and decay to the assets. Substance Painter has some powerful masking tools that make adding moss growth, rust and dirt very easy and intuitive. The baked information from the high poly models is used to drive these masks.

I started by creating a few moss materials in substance designer then importing these into Substance Painter. Mask presets like ‘dirt’ and ‘moss’ allowed for a quick application of the material to the models which were then refined with the addition of a paint layer to manually control the placement of the decay.

Rendering in Toolbag

The scene was rendered in Marmoset Toolbag 3. The materials created for the scene are mainly stone and bark which don’t have a lot of specularity or reflectance, but there is a lot of height and normal information to work with.

Based on this I tried to light the scene and materials with light hitting the assets on grazing angles. This shows off the height and normal maps to their full potential. Some post effects were added to give the scene more contrast and vividness in color as well as some bloom to make the metallic focal points stand out. I finished the piece in Photoshop by adding light shafts and some layered particles to create a sense of fantasy and give the impression of light piercing through a dark sky.

Do you plan to use these assets for bigger environments?

Yes I do! I’m currently producing more assets to create much larger environments in UE4. Some of these assets will feature again in the environment with modifications to the theme. I’m looking forward to developing this further while making use of UE4’s powerful world building and lighting tools and to see the scene come to life in real time.

Okan Beyit, Environment Artist at Zero Latency

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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